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No riots, so what’s next?


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Now we have to make Malaysians. The only way to a balanced and happy nation is to embrace solidarity and diversity, to think less of self and private gain, writes Mary Chin.

Back in the 1860s, Massimo d’Azeglio said at the unification of Italy, “L’Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli italiani” (“We have made Italy; now we have to make Italians”).

How shall we make Malaysians?

When Barisan Nasional’s defeat was finally cemented, I enquired, “Any riots?”

The answer was, “Not yet!” Prophets simply need their prophecy to be realised, no matter how unrealistic it is for the prophecy to come true. Many among us simply needed riots to happen.

Nobody apologised for stocking up, for dividing the nation, for inciting suspicion. That is, after all those noisy demands for accountability. Ugly Malaysians only think for their own selves, nothing beyond. After securing victory, they are still not satisfied; they need to think the worst of their fellow rakyat.

Such are our narrow Malaysian hearts and narrow Malaysian minds. The very act of stocking up (eg canned food) hurts the larger whole, setting our Gross Domestic Suspicion soaring. Such acts and suspicions divide the nation. No, these are neither harmless nor benign. Ours is far from a civilised society. We are ridding ourselves of goodwill.

Imagine how sick our society is, when so many among us have that special ‘need’ for riots to happen. No, don’t blame it on history. Most of the noisiest folk clamouring for change and insisting that there would be riots never witnessed any May 13 bloodshed. The prophecy on riots is their own invention.

It is time we pick up some courage in the interest of solidarity.

Change as defined by the loudest

Now that Najib Razak is ousted, we developed a newfound indulgence of watching every twist and turn of the unfolding drama – of travel bans and of further domino effects.

That is the change as defined by the loudest. Logically speaking, we can just take this as a student’s exercise on logical and critical thinking. Whatever the outcome of the election, we would have had a thundering change anyway:

  • If Pakatan Harapan had won, BN would have lost for the first time in Malaysian history.
  • If BN had won, Dr Mahathir Mohamad would have failed to plant a prime minister for the first time since his earlier reign ended.
  • If neither side had won a clear majority, we would have had a new post-election coalition government or hung Parliament for the first time in Malaysian history.

Mahathir himself planted Abdullah Badawi, planted Najib, planted himself — he is now possibly planting Anwar – and perhaps Mukhriz Mahathir too? He has proven himself able to plant from any angle and any direction he likes, whether from BN or from the opposition. Hebat! It’s been Mahathirism since 1981.

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Mahathir’s name becomes synonymous with perdana menteri. Instantly switching (back) to statesman mode, he is admirably collected and focused. He has stopped talking in that cheap rocket style of Lim Kit Siang, Lim Guan Eng and Jagdeep Singh.

Sometimes we love Mahathir less; other times we hate him less. Love him, hate him, or anywhere in between, most of us would admit that he is a capable and respectable statesman. We have a man of action and effect.

Make no mistake, he is the leader. Demanding consensus in the formation of the cabinet is terribly naive. This is the space for leadership. No space for consensus. Don’t use Mahathir just to win the election and then expect a round-table premiership. Don’t expect to have a shadow prime minister alongside the prime minister either; whatever the gentlemen’s agreement, that is not healthy.

Do Malaysians mind?

There will always be something iron-willed about Mahathir. (Or did we expect otherwise?) He openly announced that he prevented Najib and Rosmah Mansor from leaving the country.

Our self-righteous cheerleaders who have been the loudest now keep quiet. Nobody asks whether Mahathir was exercising executive power. Hardly anyone echoes Andy Yong, who slammed the travel ban on Najib, and Suhakam, which insisted that everyone has the right to travel. It isn’t just the travel ban; Najib is effectively under house arrest.

Many Malaysians find these fitting and justified, “Serve him right. Don’t forget Altantuya and Teoh Beng Hock.” Saddism and the lack of objectivity are typically Malaysian. We can sign our names there.

Why the house arrest if we are confident in our border control (that he won’t be able to sneak out) and in our search teams (that he won’t be able to hide)? Just charge him in court.

After all that clamour for justice and righteousness, those who have been the loudest really do not care about integrity and principles. The loudest really don’t mind whether the travel bans and house arrest are constitutional.

The loudest are the middle class looking for higher private profits and personal gains – the election has been all about money: Wan Emdeebee and GST.

Mahathir seemed to backtrack on the repeal of the fake news law. Again, do people mind? Why would they if they aspire for Malaysia to become like Singapore! Money matters most. Money overrides everything. Money will keep the loudest quiet.

In that noisy clamour for change, we sacrificed our best reps from Parti Sosialis Malaysia. They are the ones rolling up their sleeves and getting down to dirty work, rather than posing for photo opportunities and suing every Tom, Dick and Harry. They remain steadfast in service even as they were wiped out in the election.

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How many Malaysians acknowledge that sacrifice? Is anyone looking back at all? Do people care about building a more balanced nation?

It is really time that we pick up some courage for solidarity.

These people are so racist

Malaysian tend to reciprocally see racism in each other. Now, let us be more specific: what do we mean when we claim not to be racist like ‘these people’?

For the self-righteous who have been the loudest, affirmative action conferring special rights other than that by merit are racist. Butt don’t be surprised if they refuse to rent their houses to tenants of a different skin: for them, this has nothing to do with racism.

Recently, I floated the idea of handouts being more powerful than we imagine.

The spontaneous reflex of a friend was, “The Malays have been getting far more.” She lamented how Indians and Chinese added together can never beat “their number” and “their breeding rate”.

That brought me back to the Malaysian reality. From a local standpoint, such views can be entirely natural and understandable. But, outside the box and having lived abroad over a decade, I find such concerns jaw-dropping.

Goodness, how kolot! What era is this? Do people actually worry about a ‘competing race’ out-breeding us? Come on, such racism isn’t played up by Najib. No Najib to blame here. It is just intrinsically Malaysian, having started long before Najib showed up on the radar.

The next awakening was Guan Eng being named finance minister. My first reaction: “Oh dear, he is going to drive us into the worst capitalism, as he did in Penang.”

My friends’ reaction: “Oh wow, we’re going to have a Chinese finance minister!”

Many Malaysians are intrinsically racist. At some point, I guess we probably need that breakthrough of non-Malay ministers or even prime minister. At some point too, Malaysians need to learn to be colour blind a bit. At least, do not let colours blind us.

We are blinded if we see only Guan Eng’s skin but not his dangerous capitalism, his indulgence for the reporters’ camera and his obsession with suing people. What energy and time are left for service to the people? (Meanwhile, our chief statesman of the sharpest focus never sued anyone as prime minister.)

Of all things, handbags!

We have handbags in focus here and here. How silly and how sad. Of all things, handbags!

Be careful, though, for we have many mini-Rosmahs in our midst. Mini-Rosmahs within their own capacity – glamorous and materialistic.

Here is how an almost-RM2,000 watch became something of a Malaysian standard: ‘Guan Eng’s son denies his watch cost RM350,000’ He even added, “How I wish I can have that kind of watch.”

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His own watch is reportedly selling at a discounted price of RM1,880. By that he sets a new norm and an OK aspiration – particularly for the many followers his father gathers.

A watch, after all, is completely optional in this age of smartphones. I last wore a watch in 2005, in Naples, when a student from mainland China was travelling home from a summer school. His watch was stolen; and he panicked. So I removed mine from my wrist and passed it to him.

What are some among the middle class screaming about over the ‘unmanageable’ high cost of living? Let us get down to some details:

  • Housing costs: this is indeed a challenge, largely due to bad capitalism. People buy homes not to live in but to bet (speculate) on price appreciation. Once this is put under control, much of the problem will disappear.
  • Housing loans: once the housing problem is solved, household debts will plunge. As suggested in earlier articles, housing solutions should not incur more debts. The way to achieve this is by introducing housing co-operatives.
  • Petrol and toll costs: governments elsewhere raise these to save the environment. If we find these unmanageable, that means we are overusing private cars.
  • Household debts other than housing loans: much of this indebtedness is optional, sometimes boiling down to greed eg the RM2,000 watch and expensive furniture, which can all be bought on credit, sometimes interest-free. People spend to pamper themselves and to show off even if they are unable to afford it.
  • Food: is the cost of living really that bad for the middle class? Roti canai was 40 sen each in 1995. Now, 23 years later, it is RM1. That is an increase of 4% per year; not unreasonable if we consider annual inflation rates. The problem is probably not roti canai, but that habit of wanting to be seen to be cool eg with Starbucks coffee in one’s hand.
  • Holidays abroad: this has really been overdone, so much for glamour and Facebooking. If half of those sejours abroad had made Malaysians better persons of greater depth and breadth, the whole clamour for change wouldn’t have been the way it was: passive sing-alongs culminating in that what-to-do resignation of voting for the ‘lesser of two evils’.

Hopefully, now we shall have less to blame the government for, and we shall come face to face with the question echoing Massimo d’Azeglio: now we have to make Malaysians.

The only way to a balanced and happy nation is to embrace solidarity and diversity, to think less of self, glamour and private gain.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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27 May 2018 4.46am

Mary chin your article gives me the impression that Malaysians can do nothing right. You find everything western right. Are you telling the world that there is no racism in western society. Racism in any part of the world will not disappear till doomsday. I can take issue on many of the points you have raised but I will just end here.

22 May 2018 9.25pm

Good article. A good look at the very core of the Malaysian sosio-fabric. wonder how these issues be tackled not by anacting laws and its implimentation but by the voluntary change by all Malaysian of their ingrained prejudice about race and religion. Wishful thinking ?

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